Alberta is moving forward with its COVID-19 vaccine distribution with plans to finish Phase 1 starting Friday and Phase 2 expected to start in April.
All seniors born in 1946 or earlier are eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine within the next week.
Those living in retirement centres, senior lodges and all other congregate or supportive living homes will be eligible starting Friday.
Starting on Feb. 24, seniors born in or before 1946 and still living in the community will be able to book an appointment to receive the vaccine.
Booking will be done online or over the phone. Albertans can also sign up to be notified when it is their turn for vaccination.
“This is an exciting day for Alberta seniors and I hope it offers a real sense of relief for the thousands of family and friends who love them,” Premier Jason Kenney said.
To date, Alberta has administered 155,532 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. There are now 58,674 Albertans who are fully vaccinated with two doses.
Of those, 29,233 people who live in long-term care and designated supportive living centres have been fully vaccinated.
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“We have seen significant reduction in long-term care infections, outbreaks and deaths from COVID-19 over the past six weeks or so,” Kenney said while appearing on 770 CHQR earlier Friday.
“We’re starting to see that population much safer thanks to the vaccine.”
Phase 2 plans outlined
Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro also outlined who will be in the next group of Albertans eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
According to Kenney, officials wanted to make sure people who are at risk of the most severe health outcomes get the vaccine as quickly as possible.
“This is the same motivation that informed Phase 1 of the vaccine rollout, that is to say: protecting the most vulnerable.”
Phase 2 will be broken down into four groups.
Phase 2A will see seniors 65-74 years old, and First Nation and Metis people 50-64 years old who are living on or off reserve or settlement be eligible for the vaccine.
Staff and residents of licensed supportive living facilities not covered in Phase 1 will also be eligible.
Phase 2A is expected to begin in April, but will depend on supplies, Kenney said.
Phase 2B doesn’t have a start date, but will include Albertans aged 18-64 with underlying health conditions.
Shandro said the health conditions will be determined by “extensive analysis” of data and literature and will identify the conditions that put people at highest risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19.
In Phase 2C, residents and staff in congregate living facilities — including correctional facilities, homeless shelters and group homes for disabilities, mental health and other licensed supportive living — will be eligible for the vaccine.
“Some may question why we are targeting people in correctional facilities and homeless shelters,” Shandro said. “To us, it’s simple.
“Albertans that live in congregate settings are at an increased risk of exposure and can easily and quickly transmit the virus within a large group and are more likely to have health conditions that could lead to severe outcomes from COVID-19.”
Shandro said those facilities are no different than any other congregate living arrangements and there has been “ample evidence” how quickly COVID-19 can spread in such a facility.
In Phase 2D, Albertans aged 50-64 and First Nations and Metis people aged 35-49 living on or off reserve or settlement will be eligible.
At the end of Phase 2, more than two million Albertans will have had the chance to receive the vaccine.
“I know that everyone wants to return to normal and be safe and be protected from the virus, but with a limited amount of vaccines, we must make difficult choices to ensure that those people who are most at risk are protected first, following the data and scientific advice,” Kenney said.
NDP Health Critic David Shepherd said the province’s announcement Friday came too late and lacked details.
“The lack of detail about so many of these phases and particularly the Group B, those age 18-64 with underlying medical conditions, it’s incredibly disappointing,” he said. “This is information that other provinces have provided to their residents for weeks in that level of detail.
“We didn’t hear any kind of a plan for the broader Alberta public, again something that other provinces have provided to their residents for several weeks.”
Ahead of Kenney and Shandro’s announcement, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said it makes sense to him that Phase 2 focus on frontline workers, as well as other vulnerable populations and those who work with them directly.
“The City of Edmonton’s position on this is that science and risk should determine who gets it next. It has made sense to target folks with higher risk factors first, of course. We believe that is scientifically supported and morally, the right thing to do.”
Iveson said the city would also advocate for its employees who are in high contact with the public to be on the priority list. Iveson said the city stands ready to help with the logistics of the rollout, including offering any and all space that may be required such as rec centres, libraries or community halls.
“The city stands ready, willing and eager to assist.”
According to the premier, the plan has the ability to ramp up the number of vaccines a week and the province is shooting for over 200,000 a week before the end of March.
By using pharmacists, doctors, Alberta Health Services and public health resources, Shandro said about 180,000 doses of vaccine could be administered per week.
There is also an ability to utilize rapid flow-through clinics throughout the province.
“What the locations would be… I can’t say at this time, but we have been doing that planning for those rapid flow-through clinics if and when we ever get a surge supply in vaccines from the federal government to ensure we can give those vaccines to Albertans as quickly as we can get them from the federal government,” Shandro said.
If other vaccines are approved and made available in Canada, Alberta will consider adding other groups, like people who interact with the public on a day-to-day basis, to Phase 2, but Kenney said there are too many other factors around vaccines to lay out who will be in Phase 3 or even Phase 4.
“There are just too many unknowns for us to put out a reliable prioritization list for the final phases of inoculation,” he said.
If other vaccines are approved, they may have different storage requirements, different logistic complexity and may be more or less effective on different age groups, Kenney said.
Canada saw delays in vaccine delivery from both Moderna and Pfizer in early February. Both companies insist they’re on track to meet delivery deadlines.